Chutzpah and contentment
Leo Abse had a long wonderful life.
Until his final days he delighted in fierce argument with views that were original, startling and cerebral. No parliamentarian can challenge the range and influence of his backbench achievements.
His extraordinary legislative record as a backbench MP stretched from 1958 until 1987. He remarked, of the Labour government he served under, that "until our intervention, our laws relating to divorce, suicide, illegitimacy, adoption and homosexuality were unbecoming to any society claiming to be civilised". It was 'his' rather than 'ours.'
With guile, courage and skill he pushed through some of the most radical legislative changes since the Second World War, including the Sexual Offences Act of 1967, which decriminalised homosexuality (and earned him a steady postal supply of excrement), and the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act of 1985, which made divorce much easier to obtain.
He turned his fury against Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. Waspishly his attack on Thatcher was as “Daughter of Beatrice’ because she failed to mention her mother in her Who’s Who biography. When Tony Blair named his son Leo, Abse said ‘He has stolen my party, now he has stolen my name.
He was delightful stimulating companion and raconteur. I first met him in 1948 when he stood unsuccessfully as a Labour council candidate for the Grangetown ward in Cardiff. He made an indelible impression. To a twelve year old, it was a shock to confront anti-Semitism from the local Tories. Leo Abse remained a hero for my brother and me ever since that unforgettable campaign. I offered the example of Leo as the backbenchers’ backbencher when I wrote my book on How to be a backbencher.
He recklessly made political enemies with his book, Private Member. He reduced MPs elevated motivations to the instinctive expressions of basic Freudian urges. He alleged that there was a love affair between Harold Wilson and Barbara Castle 'that had not gone beyond the mammary stage.' That was why Harold could refuse her nothing because he saw her as a maternal figure.'
But he was also a great charmer. His skills at negotiation, ensured that he sewed together parliamentary coalitions for his courageous reforms. One bit of advice that he gave me in the 80 that I have always followed was 'When speaking in the open air, never speak for longer than three minutes.'
Leo had the satisfaction of outliving most of his enemies. He heroically challenged the accepted stereotypes of the companions of the aging process. His second marriage was to a young woman when he was in his eighties. He worked with the enthusiasm, energy and chutzpah of an enfant terrible until his final days.
Leo Abse offered Heine's definition of happiness as the best route map to contentment:
"A good bed, good food, the freshest milk and butter, flowers before my window and a few fine trees before my door; and if God wants to make my happiness complete, he will grant me the joy of seeing some six or seven of my enemies hanging from those trees."
Rest in peace comrade.
What a treasure Boris is turning out to be. Beloved of Cameron he is giving up a glimpse of the chaos a Cameron Government would create.
Imitating the splendid Mayor Bloomberg of New York, he appointed at the cost half a million a crop of Mayor-lets. A third have gone in disgrace or disgust. Boris' Brave New World is becoming the mad metropolis.
Demonstrating what a united band of brothers the Tories are, Boris had a middle age moment. Possibly forgetting that Cameron has been blathering about a broken society, Boris said:-
"If you believe the politicians, we have a broken society, in which the courage and morals of young people have been sapped by welfarism and political correctness.
"And if you look at what is happening at the Beijing Olympics, you can see what piffle that is."
Spin your way out of that, Boris.